- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 18, 2002

By Joyce Milton
Encounter Books, $26.95, 326 pages

In 1960 psychologist Abraham Maslow suggested that America was ready for a "realistic" utopia that he called "Eupsychia" the land of healthy psyches. This community would be "anarchistic" with a "loving" spirit that would reflect the needs and desires of all people. Moreover, "its inhabitants would feel no need to impose their opinions, religious beliefs or personal tastes on others."
Over the next decade Maslow made common cause with other practitioners of what came to be called humanistic psychology. Included here were: Carl Rogers, a former ministerial student who went on to write "On Becoming A Person" which advocated stripping away "false fronts" in order to become "the self one really is"; Timothy Leary, the "tune in, turn on, drop out" LSD zealot; Fritz Perls, the Esalen therapist-in-residence who on occasion responded to critical remarks by rolling around on the floor in imitation of a crying baby; Werner Erhard aka Philadelphia used car salesman Jack Rosenberg, who went on to establish est (Erhard Seminars Training) and, as one of the rewards for his success, adorned his black Mercedes with the vanity plate SO WUT.
Others who heeded Maslow's clarion call included: John Holt, author of "Escape From Freedom" and advocate of free birth control devices to girls as young as 10, no restrictions on drug use and noncompulsory school attendance; Jean Houston, an early psychodelic drug investigator and specialist in eliciting visions and traveling in the "antecedent future" techniques she would slyly employ 30 years later in an effort to put then First Lady Hillary Clinton in tune with the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt; and Andrew Weil (the very same) who in 1972 predicted that America was in the midst of a "shift from straight to stoned thinking on a grand scale … Stoned consciousness is spreading through the population like a chain reaction."
In "The Road to Malpsychia," a retrospective on the humanist psychology movement, Joyce Milton suggests malpsychia rather than eupsychia as a more accurate word to describe the movement's overall effects on American culture. As she points out, each proponent of humanistic psychology, although espousing individual and oftentimes contradictory views about eupsychia, held certain concepts in common. Indeed, their words and phrases, along with the techniques they employed, remain part of our contemporary culture, especially in California and other locales populated by people who share a "California state of mind."
Included here are such terms as "your inner child; "the true self", "the self which one truly is", "becoming more fully a person", "open relationships", "peak experiences", and that show stopper the "RIGHT to be loved".
The techniques included T-groups, touching exercises, frequent hugging, and "haircuts": exercises in which groups would focus on one participant and break down his or her "defenses" with a torrent of verbal abuse.
And when words weren't enough, there were always therapeutic exercises such as "sluggo": a sucker punch delivered by a therapist-counselor intent on getting a client's undivided attention.
Looking back now three decades later it's difficult to avoid laughing when reading about some of the hijinks then taking place in the goal of getting in touch with the "true self": As part of trust exercises some men were required to wear the identifying badge "All American Turkey"; others were ordered to don diapers and sleep in cribs.
And then there was Werner Erhard who in the interest of reshaping reality taught his followers that they were responsible for everything that happened in their lives. As a practical application of this tenet, he suggested to a couple that had survived the concentration camps that Adolf Hitler wasn't responsible for their suffering. They were.
Unfortunately, the rightful demise of most of the wackier techniques of humanistic psychology hasn't prevented many of its tenets from remaining with us. "Long after these assumptions have become passe, the theory lives on as a justification for retooling our schools, government programs and civil society itself," the author writes.
For instance, take the self-esteem movement, which still commands respect in some school systems across the country. Are you doing poorly in school? Unpopular with your classmates? Codependent? Depressed? Well, if any of this describes you, low self-esteem is undoubtedly the cause of your problem: "If you can only be made to "feel good about yourself" all of these problems will disappear," according to self-esteem advocates.
Actually, as the author points out in this fascinating highly recommended account, people with low self-esteem usually prove far less of a problem for society than those with high self-esteem. She reminds us that high self-esteem is frequently linked with violent personalities and the acting out of a sense of personal superiority. "This should not surprise anyone who recalls that Maslow used the term self-esteem as a synonym for dominance feeling, the same drive that makes monkeys dominate others in the group," she observes.
"Grief counseling" and classes in "death education", two other holdovers of the humanistic psychology movement, have also led to unexpected consequences certainly in Jefferson County, Colo. As part of an effort starting in 1985 to "get kids more comfortable with death" teachers at Columbine High School encouraged students to imagine their own death. Included was Tara Becker who later survived an unsuccessful suicide attempt. "The things we learned in the class taught us how to be brave enough to face death. We talked about what we wanted to look like in our coffins," said Miss Becker in a 20/20 interview.
Students Eric Harris and Dylan Kleibold also attended such classes at Columbine. Harris even had a dream in which he and Kleibold went on a shooting spree in a mall. After writing of his dream and handing the paper in to the psychology teacher, Harris and Kleibold acted out the dream by killing themselves and 13 of their classmates. Later when asked by a reporter about the Harris paper the teacher pondered: "I'm wondering, did I miss it as a warning sign?" But perhaps we shouldn't be too critical. After all, as the teacher explained, many of his students turned in fantasies about violent acts.
And Columbine is only one of the more conspicuous examples Joyce Milton provides in this powerfully engrossing book that "The quest for 'realness' has claimed many casualties."
Certainly after reading "The Road to Malpsychia" it's hard to disagree that "Anyone who has charted her life's course according to hot trends in psychology from open marriage in the 1970s through confronting her parents with accusations of abuse based on 'recovered' memories and bringing up children who were encouraged to 'discover' their own values has had a bumpy ride indeed."

Richard Restak, a neurologist and neuropsychiatrist, is the author of a dozen books on the brain and behavior. His latest book, "The Secret Life of the Brain," is the companion volume to the PBS television series.

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